Governing the Voice: A Critical History of Speech-Language Pathology


  • Joshua St. Pierre University of Alberta
  • Charis St. Pierre



speech, communication, disability, speech-language pathology, genealogy 


This essay argues that Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) emerged as a response to the early twentieth-century demand for docile, efficient, and thus productive speech. As the capacity of speech became more central to the industrial and democratic operations of modern society, an apparatus was needed to bring speech under the fold of biopower. Beyond simple economic productivity, the importance of SLP lies in opening the speaking subject up to management and normalization—creating, in short, biopolitical subjects of communication. We argue that SLP accordingly emerged not as a discreet institution, but as a set of practices which can be clustered under three headings: calculating deviance, disciplining the tongue, and speaking the truth of pathologized subjects. 

Author Biographies

Joshua St. Pierre, University of Alberta

Joshua St. Pierre is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Alberta. His main research is organized around the socio-political production of speech and the many ways that speakers become legible—or conversely are rendered illegible/unintelligible/irrational—through ableist norms that traverse social, political, and economic spaces and temporalities. He has published on speech disabilities in Hypatia (2015), Communication Theory (2015), the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies (2012), and Literature, Speech Disorders, and Disability: Talking Normal (Routledge, 2013). His wider interests include eugenics, feminist and continental philosophy, queer theory, and feminist bioethics. Joshua has also guest edited special issues of Feral Feminisms (2016) and the Canadian Journal of DisabilityStudies (2016).


Charis St. Pierre

Charis St. Pierre is an independent scholar living in Edmonton, AB.


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How to Cite

St. Pierre, J., & St. Pierre, C. (2018). Governing the Voice: A Critical History of Speech-Language Pathology. Foucault Studies, (24), 151–184.